Saturday, 17 November 2018

When the weather outside is frightful

When the weather outside is frightful
08 Nov

Weather plays a factor in course setup and greens speed on the PGA TOUR. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

Making a decision on whether to move tee times up or back and play threesomes off two tees to try to avoid bad weather is difficult. For one thing, it needs to be done as early as possible so television partners can be ready and the media can let fans know what it happening. And as we all know, the weather can turn on a dime.

“It’s Mother Nature,” Williams says with a shrug. “If you think you got her figured out, she’ll pull a fast one on you.”

Sometimes the decision to play early proves prescient. Take the RBC Heritage in April. With severe thunderstorms in the forecast on Sunday, the decision was made to move tee times up. Not only was the tournament finished before the storms hit, there was also time for a three-hole playoff between Satoshi Kodaira and Si Woo Kim before the heavens opened up.

Sometimes the decision not make any changes also proves spot-on. Consider the Travelers Championship in June. The Sunday forecast by Wade Stettner called for a slight chance of thunderstorms after 4 p.m., with a better chance after 6 p.m. No tee time adjustments were made, and the tournament was completed just before the heavy rains fell. In fact, the trophy presentation to Bubba Watson was moved from the 18th green to the media interview room in order to avoid the downpour.

Sometimes decisions are made but Mother Nature simply doesn’t cooperate. This year’s BMW Championship at Aronimink was plagued by rain. Tee times were moved up for the final round on Sunday, then moved back multiple times but there was simply no opening to play. The final round was pushed to Monday, and while the forecast again was not favorable, the FedExCup Playoffs event was able to finish and send the final 30 players to the TOUR Championship.

“It’s hard to make those decisions 24 hours ahead of time,” Williams says. “If we could make that decision Sunday morning and say ‘Hey guys, I think we’re going to be good. Let’s just go one tee,’ it would be great. We don’t have that option, so we do the best we can.”

Decisions to alter the format of play are made in consultation with tournament directors, sponsors and TV partners. But every effort is made to finish a tournament by Sunday night, although playing Monday is an option.

During the 2017-18 season, three tournaments finished on unscheduled Mondays – the Farmers Insurance Open, the Barbasol Championship and the BMW Championship.

“When you’re making these decisions, you have to look at the big picture,” Russell says. “You’re going to always get some criticism because that’s the nature of the business. But you’re not worried about that you have to do what you think is right and what’s right for the golf tournament.”

Sometimes that means stripping the tents, leaving shells of iron, when a tropical storm blows through in hopes of playing the next day. And Williams vividly remembers multiple conference calls with emergency management officials at Plainfield that year when Hurricane Irene took aim on the New Jersey coast.

“They’re concerned because this is a public event and it’s a big deal,” he says.

Williams says he never gets tired of people asking him about the weather. In fact, it’s kind of flattering.

“They have confidence enough to ask and believe in what you say, so it’s part of the job,” he says. “I’ll get calls from people at home all the time – ‘Hey, how long is this storm going to last here?’ And I’m not even there.”

Williams says players like Brett Quigley and Davis Love III, both avid outdoorsmen, would sometimes try to get a sense of what their off weeks might be like. Ditto for the guys who might want to go fishing on the Florida coast.

“Especially in the springtime if there’s a really strong east wind or northeast wind, it’s usually not very good for fishing because it makes big waves and churns things up,” Williams says. “They like the calm conditions. It’s pretty funny that for their own personal reasons, they want to know what’s going to happen at their house.”

Snedeker jokes that he had a different approach.

“I was like, Hey, I know you have a special website that you go to get all your weather stuff,” he says with a grin. “Would you give me the password so I can get in there and use it when I’m not out of here on TOUR?”

On nice days when the sun is shining, Williams likes to get out and walk some holes – more for exercise, really, and socializing with other members of this traveling circus called the PGA TOUR. He also takes the time to catch up on travel arrangements and the like.

Those are also Russell’s favorite days.

“We refer to that as a walk-around day,” he says, “You know, when you haven’t got a chance of rain and there’s not a cloud in the sky.”



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